Spotting a bald eagle in Manitoba is not uncommon but for the most part, it is a somewhat uncommon event. Over the last few weeks however, the birds have been on full display as they take advantage of some easy hunting options of the Canadian Geese that remain on Crescent Lake. People have been sharing photos on social media and many have commented that it is the circle of life on display in the heart of the community.
It is also not uncommon for birds to be injured at this time of year and while most may end up being a part of that circle, some are rescued and that's where the the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre in Ile des Chenes sometimes steps in. While this particular bird did not come from Crescent Lake, the centre has recently been nursing a bald eagle back to health with a different kind of illness.
Executive Director Zoe Nakata says the eagle was brought to the centre in very rough shape. She notes it was weak, emaciated, and couldn’t fly but there were no obvious signs of injury so their medical team began a thorough analysis.
“We decided to actually test its blood for lead. This is something that we're seeing creeping up in our patients, a few more every year and so we thought, 'hey, maybe these symptoms and the reason that it's in such poor health is lead poisoning'. Everything was kind of lining up towards that.”
Sure enough, Nakata says the blood tests came back positive for severe lead poisoning. Having not been shot, she adds it is hard to know how it got lead poisoning but there are a few possibilities.
“Being that they're scavengers and hunters, it probably came from something it ate. A really good example of this is sometimes we use lead weights when we go fishing, perhaps a fish ingested that lead weight, the fish had lead poisoning, then the eagle eats the fish and then the eagle gets lead poisoning.”
Alternatively, Nakata says the bald eagle could have eaten waterfowl that was shot. She notes lead bullets aren’t usually found in Canada, but many species migrate and could have come up from the US.
Fortunately, the eagle is now doing remarkably well thanks to Chelation Therapy which is a medication designed to bind to lead in the blood and bones in order to expel it from the body.
The first 7-day round of therapy is complete and Nakata says they are now taking a rest period because it can be hard on the birds' kidneys and other organs.
“We're just waiting on the results of those blood tests to see if we're going to do another round of treatment, but if not, then she's headed outside in our flight cages to gain her strength back, a lot of supportive nutrition and food, and hopefully back in the wild in about a month.”
So what can we learn from this?
Nakata says “Two things, one is to responsibly dispose of fishing line and hooks and lead weights. Do not leave them out in nature because they do end up causing a lot of trouble for wildlife. And really just refrain from using anything that does have lead either for fishing or for hunting. It does have that cascading effect on our animals.”
This bald eagle is, of course, only one of the animals currently being treated by the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre. Nakata says they have quite a number of patients and many of them will be at the centre all winter.
“This is the time of year when we have to hunker down. For those migrating species, if they've got a wing injury and it hasn't healed in time for migration, then they're staying with us for the whole winter. Our team is really busy doing a lot of enrichment in the rooms to make sure that these animals still have a very positive atmosphere while they're in our care.
Nakata says this means they are adding a lot of natural branches, tree logs, and rocks. She says they are also on the lookout for artificial trees so if anyone has a tree or two they could donate, they are encouraged to reach out in the near future.
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